All about ulcers

What are ulcers?
Ulcers are a common health issue that affect up to 90% of racehorses and 60% of show horses .Equine ulcers are open sores that occur in the lining of a horse's stomach or intestines. These ulcers are caused by a disruption in the balance of acid and mucus in the stomach, which can lead to erosion and inflammation of the stomach lining. Since horse’s stomach produce acid all throughout the day, they are naturally at risk to developp them.

Ulcers are most commonly found in the stomach, in the squamous region but can occur in 3 other parts of the digestive system :

  • Lower part of the esophagus
  • Glandular region of the stomach
  • Upper small intestine

What causes ulcers?
Equine ulcers can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  1. Limited access to hay
    Limited access to hay can increase the risk of equine ulcers for several reasons. Horses are designed to graze almost constantly throughout the day and night, producing saliva that helps to buffer the stomach acid and keep the pH level balanced. When horses are fed hay only twice a day, they are more likely to have extended periods without food, which can lead to an increase in stomach acid production and a decrease in saliva production, creating an imbalanced environment that can lead to ulcers. It is recommended to not let a horse spend more than 4 hours without hay.
  1. Stress
     Horses are sensitive animals and can be easily stressed by changes in their environment, such as transportation, competition, or changes in diet. Stress can cause an increase in the production of stomach acid, which can lead to the formation of ulcers.
  1. High grain diet
    A diet that is high in starch and low in fiber can increase the risk of equine ulcers. Horses that are fed a high concentrate diet, such as grains are at a higher risk of developing ulcers.
  1. Medications
    Certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can increase the risk of ulcers in horses.
  1. Exercise
    Intense exercise can increase the risk of ulcers in horses. This is because during exercise, blood flow is redirected away from the stomach, which can lead to a decrease in the production of mucus, making the stomach lining more susceptible to ulcers.


Symptoms of ulcers

The symptoms of equine ulcers can vary, depending on the severity and location of the ulcers. Some common symptoms of equine ulcers include:

  1. Loss of appetite
  2. Sensitivity in the girth area
  3. Weight loss
  4. Poor performance
  5. Colic
  6. Diarrhea
  7. Dull coat
  8. Behavioral changes, such as irritability or aggression

Diagnosing equine ulcers can be challenging, as the symptoms can be vague and nonspecific. However, the best test that can be used to confirm the presence of ulcers is doing a gastroscopy.

The treatment of equine ulcers usually involves a combination of medication and management changes. Medications that are commonly used to treat equine ulcers include proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole, and H2 blockers, such as ranitidine. These medications work by reducing the production of stomach acid, which can help to heal the ulcers. Some of these medications might spike acid production when they are stopped, using supplements can help to prevent ulcers from forming again.

Management changes that can help to prevent and treat equine ulcers include:

  1. Feeding a high-quality forage diet with 24/7 access to hay, hay nets can help slow the consuption down
  2. Reducing stressors in the horse's environment
  3. Providing regular turnout and exercise
  4. Administering preventitive supplements before transport or competition
  5. Reduce grain intake

The symptoms of equine ulcers can be vague and nonspecific, making diagnosis challenging. However, with early diagnosis and treatment, most horses can make a full recovery!


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